September 5, 2011

Recipe - Between Seasons Pasta

I don't mean to brag here, but I've been feeling the first tinges of Autumn in the New York City air these past few days. We survived a hurricane so maybe the payoff is an early Fall? It's been positively brisk on my morning walks to the subway and we've been able to turn off our A/C a few times and not immediately dissolve into sweat puddles. Huzzah! Being from Arizona, I'm not used to really experiencing Fall - 80 degree weather can stretch clear into Christmas there - so having access to this season is one of my favorite things about living on the East Coast.

When Tucson did manage to produce a Fall season, it was always my very favorite time of year. Sweaters, scarves, boots, hot tea, baked goods, Halloween movies, blankets, stepping on crunchy leaves ... what's not to love? (Not to mention the Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks that my cousin Kelly lives for and the Thanksgiving sandwiches at Cosi that Johnny could eat by the fistful.) But we're not there quite yet, so I decided to devise a meal that features some of Summer and Fall's best produce. Between Seasons Pasta was born!

I started with some quinoa pasta given to me by my nutritionist. It's made of quinoa flour and corn flour and I wasn't too sure I'd be a fan, but it was worth a shot. I'd bought a few nice looking organic summer zucchini at the store and thought they'd be a nice addition. I then roasted up some cubed sweet potatoes to kick start those familiar autumnal flavors and added some rosemary to further the coziness. I planned on caramelizing an onion for an added punch of flavor, but I didn't have any onions! (I always have onions, WTH?) I could have gone to the store, but wait... what's that hiding in the corner of the crisper drawer? A leek! Can you caramelize a leek? I think I saw someone on Top Chef do it once, though I'm pretty sure they added it to panna cotta or something weird.

Anyway, as you can see this was truly an off-the-cuff dinner and the results could have gone either way, but MAN ALIVE did it turn out good! The quinoa pasta is quite good (though it stays a bit al dente for my tastes) and the zucchini and sweet potatoes had their own little romance going on. The caramelized leek turned out to be a great addition and provided so much flavor that hardly any other seasoning was needed. And the whole house smelled like a chilly October evening, just the way I like it!

Can I just say that I think someone is slipping something in Johnny's water? He has positively devoured everything I've put in front of him lately! I haven't faced one of those awkward "It's good..." moments as he swallows one bite and leaves the rest of his meal untouched since... I don't even know when! Between Seasons Pasta was no exception, he actually went back for seconds. I nearly fainted.

A quick note about substitutions: any pasta will work just fine, though something hearty like penne or rigatoni would be my suggestion. Roaster butternut squash would be a great sub for sweet potatoes. And if you have an onion and not a leek, feel free to caramelize that instead. "What the funk is nutritional yeast?" you may be asking. It is deactivated yeast which you can buy powdered or in flakes (usually in the bulk section of your healthier stores). It has a mildy cheesy flavor so it's popular with vegans. The best part is that it is a great source of B-complex vitamins and is fortified with B12, which is hard to find in non-animal products. I highly recommend you give it a try, but if you vegetarians and omnivores just aren't feeling it, feel free to use parmesan instead.

Between Seasons Pasta
Serves 6

1 box quinoa pasta shells
2 tbsp olive oil (divided)
2 tsp Earth Balance (divided)
1 leek
2 large zucchinis
2 large sweet potatoes
2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp dried rosemary (or 2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped)

Heat your oven to 425 degrees. Peel and cube the sweet potatoes and place them in a glass baking dish with 1 tbsp olive oil. Toss until evenly coated, then cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and removing the foil during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

As the sweet potatoes cook, heat the other 1 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tsp Earth Balance over low heat in a large skillet. Remove the dark green top of the leek and slice the remaining white and light green parts into 2" long strips. Add them to the skillet and stir until coated with the oil/margarine. Cover with a glass lid and leave a crack for steam to escape. Cook the leeks on low heat for 15-20 minutes or until they've developed a deep brown color. Stir a few times to ensure they don't burn. As they caramelize, start boiling a large pot of water for your pasta. Then cube your 2 zucchinis into large chunks. Once the leeks are browned, add the zucchini to the pan as well as the rosemary. Continue cooking for 10 minutes or so, until the zucchini is translucent and browned.  

Once the water has come to a boil, add your pasta and cook according to the package (mine took 9 minutes). Drain and return to the pot. Add the remaining 1 tsp of Earth Balance and the nutritional yeast to the pasta and stir well. Then add the leeks, zucchini, and sweet potatoes to the pot and toss gently. Serve hot with extra nutritional yeast sprinkled on top if desired.

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